Have you “grown up?” What “are you?”

In recent days, I’ve seen posts in different places by folks (half-jokingly) musing about what they want to be when they “grow up.” Some people comment that they refuse to grow up. Others that they have no idea what to “be,” but “if you figure it out, let me know.” All of which I’ve seen before, or heard in conversation. I think it’s interesting, how many grown adults out there don’t actually feel “grown up,” and wonder today what makes one feel grown up? It must not be paying bills, or no longer living with your parents, as almost all of the adults I know would fall into those categories, and have for a long time. It must not even be parenthood, as I know many parents who still don’t feel like a grown up, apparently.

I can’t remember not feeling like a grown up. I barely remember feeling like a child, waiting for someone to tell me what to do or show me the way somewhere. I’m not sure why that is, and was turning it over in my mind the past 24 hours. Perhaps going into abject poverty when I entered high school, having to work to contribute to household expenses made me feel grown up. Maybe it was the things I was involved with in high school that vaulted me forward; while some pursued cheerleading or cross-country, I pursued boys, bands, alcohol and shoplifting. But I still remember feeling like a very sad little girl who needed her mommy when I showed up that first day at college and couldn’t write the check for the tuition they wanted, having thought I would be able to pay 1/3, and them insisting I needed to pay 2/3. Mom had to work and sent me on my way with a blank check, but I could only write it for so much or it would bounce. Perhaps I became a grown-up in that moment, in that giant auditorium (which was how you registered and did drop and add back in the day), when the Bursar’s table sent me back to my dorm table in tears because I didn’t have the required money and they weren’t going to let me start college three days later. The rep from the dorm hugged me and asked what was wrong, and I told her, and explained how I had called the previous month and made arrangements to only pay 1/3, even though the date had passed for that installment payment, with the understanding the other third would follow the next month, but that they wouldn’t honor the verbal agreement. They were pretty shitty about it, too, the assistant Bursar stone-faced and sarcastic, as though they would EVER do someone a favor or cut me a break. He said I would have to go home or find a way to get more money. “Who told you that?” the rep asked, and I turned and pointed, like a Body Snatcher, yelling at the top of my lungs, “THAT BIG, MEAN MAN OVER THERE IN THE SUIT!” Everyone turned to see who I was yelling about, and the guy looked very uncomfortable. Long story short, they let me pay the 1/3, and then the second third the following month, and that was when I learned that sometimes you have to be pushy and dramatic to get your due. Was that the moment?

Or was it when I got sick, just prior to my 21st birthday? I couldn’t shake the weeks of diarrhea I’d originally thought was food poisoning. Despite the freezing cold February weather and my lingering illness, I was determined to go out and get my first, legal drink on my birthday. Nobody would come with me, so I went alone, venturing forth from my shitty little apartment on Tonkin Court, trekking downtown to Ray’s, where I proudly displayed my ID and they gave me a free beer. Halfway through, I’d lost so much blood in Ray’s toilet I almost passed out, and went home in defeat. Was it the sickness that made me grow up? Or entering, at such a young age, the reality that is arguing and debating about your medical expenses and bills with twenty different institutions and service providers, negotiating, keeping copies of everything, writing down dates and times of calls and who you talked to, reminding them of arrangements we’d made, holding their feet to the fire by going up the chain, to manager to supervisor to head of business, the phone version of screaming, “THAT BIG MEAN MAN OVER THERE!” Was that when?

And what “am I?” Am I an actor, even though I barely do any acting anymore? Yes, I will always be, even if I never set foot on a stage again. I know that now, and didn’t when, after being sick for five years, I accepted I’d never be able to act again, and took up writing. I’m still an actor even if all I do is a benefit performance here or a staged reading there. Even if my headshots are too old to use and I don’t have the scratch for new ones, and am too ashamed of how fat I’ve gotten to fork over the cash for new ones even if I had it. I fell into writing, got published regularly on a freelance basis, but didn’t really become a full-time, professionally paid writer until about 2001. Are you a writer if you’ve only done it for a few years? I think so, yes. But I’ve been so many other things, too. A wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister, a half-sister, a girlfriend, a trusted confidante and amateur counselor, a consumer advocate, a political activist, a traveler, a producer, an event planner, a gourmand.

I guess I grew up a long time ago. I don’t miss never being able to see over the counter, or shopkeepers looking at me like I’m going to rip them off as soon as I come into their business (in fairness, at one time, I probably was). I don’t miss my feet not ever touching the floor when I sit down or never being able to go where I want, always where someone else wants, riding in the back choking on cigarette smoke, being forced to sit in the corner of the kitchen and play pick-up sticks until it was time to go. Maybe not growing up means something else. If I was supposed to hang on to some Peter Pan style princess innocence, an “inner child,” well, I never had that to begin with. I never wanted to be a princess. If I was supposed to grow up and “be something,” some singularly defining thing, that’s just not how I work. Sure, there are plenty of names I have been called, but those aren’t any more accurate than trying to apply a single label to me. A label, quite literally, does not apply to me; there is no glue that makes it stick.

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